Day 3: Sparta to Merrick State Park

74 miles – total 214

Today was as flat and easy as 74 miles could be. The ride into La Crosse, along the La Crosse river was gorgeous and the going was fast! We arrived in La Crosse in time to stop in a bike shop for a trailer tube and to hit the People’s Food coop for food supplies. Had lunch at a sandwich place, grabbed wifi and coffee at a little coffee shop and still were on the road north at 1 pm.

We backtracked a bit to join the Great River trail along the mighty Mississippi even past Trempeleau. Amazing to have the opportunity to cover over 100 miles on rails to trails. It’s great to not deal with cars and to see the scenery but the crushed limestone eventually gets a bit old so we were happy to hit the pavement for the final 20 miles or so today.

One of the big hazards of the path is loose sand. With skinny road wheels, it can be harrowing to get through it. So whenever we successfully navigated such a section I swear I heard Bob Roll and Phil Ligget from the VoiceOver in the sky saying “well you know, mike and chandra are mountain bikers so they are used to these conditions.” in the end though I’m most impressed with Chandra’s ability to keep her cool ( and her balance?) while slipping around on such loose ground. It’s scary enough for me and I’m in control!

Among long haul bikers it’s often said that day 3 is the hardest. It’s when legs and butt are most sore and energy is often lagging. Luckily neither Chandra nor I felt that way today at all! We had tons of energy and bodies holding up well. Out of Trempeleau Chandra suggested the stoker hit it a bit and we jumped from 15 to 24 MPH for a few miles! Of course neither if us could maintain that too long but sometimes afterburners are fun!

Today was also a social day – running into a few people. One was an old timer that we met while standing on a bridge where the trail crosses Tank Creek. We were marveling at the amount of flow and admiring the patterns made by the currents and asked him if this was Tank creek. He said it is ( he was born a few miles away and still farms up the hill a bit ). When I mentioned high flow he said “yeah – a dike broke on the Black River so now lots of flow from there enters Tank creek and it changed everything in the bottom lands. It used to be clear water fed from springs but now it’s all cloudy from the black river.” he went on to tell us the dike was from when the loggers used to need to float their rafts down the Black. Late 1800s. Previously when the dikes broke the DNR fixed them but now they want to return the area to it’s more natural state. For this guy, the natural state was probably 100 years of a baseflow dominated stream with no input from the black river. Interesting to think about which timescale is appropriate to attribute “natural” to and can humans making new habitat and ecosystems be considered part of nature? The new flow in Tank Creek has killed of tons of trees, for example. It’s like the Searsville dam at Stanford or North Pamet river on Cape Cod. Who’s to say which habitat has more right to exist? It’s a philosophical question I find more interesting and important as time goes on. That made the conversation with the old timer quite satisfying.

We moved on eventually and had burritos at the campground. We realized we forgot the cribbage board so chandra made the one in the picture. AT&T lousy here so probably only can upload the one photo. But, we are snug in the tent serenaded by coyotes and freight trains right along the river. Tomorrow we ride to Wabasha and hope to meet up with Java Jim at the Eagles nest then on to a rest day in Red Wing! Looking forward to a beautiful ride on familiar ground.

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